Monday, August 31, 2009

Europa dreaming

"All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there." Or better yet, give it a try. More on this subject soon. UPDATE 9/1: More.

Image credit: NASA/NSSDC.

UPDATE 9/1: My article "Target Europa: Ambitious Plans Aim for Jupiter's Ocean Moon" is now up at as part of an in-depth report on "Robotic Exploration of the Solar System." Excerpt:

An elaborate choreography of multiple spacecraft will play out among Jupiter and its Galilean moons in the decade of the 2020s, if plans now taking shape at NASA and other space agencies get the go-ahead in the next several years. The lion's share of these coordinated and collaborative ventures will focus on orbiting—and possibly landing on—Europa, a scientifically intriguing world where evidence of a watery ocean beneath the moon's icy crust points to a possible abode for extraterrestrial life.

Before the Fed

Glenn Reynolds points, presumably approvingly, to Erik Voorhees' TCS Daily piece on "The Record of the Federal Reserve." From all of which one might get the impression that pre-Fed 19th century America was blissfully free of financial and economic problems. Not quite so. And notably, most of these crises occurred long after the Fed's precursors, the First and Second Banks of the United States, had been driven out of existence by anti-finance populists.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Health care history

I researched the history of efforts to revamp the health care system for my latest article in Research magazine. Excerpt:

The history of health care politics can be sobering. It suggests, for one thing, that government health care programs can cost a great deal of money, possibly much more than their proponents indicated or realized when the programs were proposed. History also shows that the health care sector, traditionally touted as largely recession-proof in that people will continue to purchase its products even in a downturn, can be quite volatile, especially when political debates are afoot that could transform the sector.

Another sobering feature of health care debates over the decades is that they fall into predictable grooves, with reformers often seizing on the same basic idea — a government-run health insurance program — rather than contemplating a broader array of reform possibilities. Meanwhile, opponents often have focused on the downsides of such a government-heavy approach rather than emphasizing alternative reforms to address problems in existing health care arrangements.

Whole thing here.

UPDATE: I'm slated to talk about this piece on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Sept. 8, at 7pm ET.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Not just a copy editing problem

Is this the stupidest thing Glenn Beck has yet come up with, or the most brilliant? Oligarh!

Carve it in stone

Science archivists are trying to figure out ways to store data and keep it accessible, even for the really long term:

Earlier this year, researchers at Keio University, Sharp Corp. and Kyoto University in Japan unveiled a memory chip designed to last for centuries. In April, physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published the design of a digital device that could store data for a billion years, at least in theory.
I've written about similar topics a few times, for example here and here. About a decade ago, I reviewed Gregory Benford's excellent Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia for the now-defunct webzine IntellectualCapital. In a mild irony, my review is now effectively lost, though at one point an archive-savvy reader did find it through the Wayback Machine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ron Paul folly rolls forward

Anti-finance populists of left and right are joining forces to undercut the Federal Reserve's independence. Consider this dreary news packed in an ill-informed post by Amanda Carpenter:

House Financial Services Chairman Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, said he expects former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul's legislation to audit the Fed to pass out of his committee in October as part of a larger regulatory package.

Rep. Paul's, Texas Republican, bill if added to Mr. Frank's other proposed reforms could give a boost to a financial regulation package the Obama Administration wanted to pass last spring. The Fed bill has 282 co-sponsors, including every Republican member of the House and a considerable number of Democrats. The Senate's lead sponsor of the bill is Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent and self-described socialist.

Today, the Government Accountability Office has no power to audit the Federal Reserve. Mr. Paul's bill would empower the government watchdog to do so and make their findings available to the public.

Contrary to the above, the GAO already has the power, and uses it, to audit the Fed. If you don't believe me, take a look at some of the actual audits. What GAO doesn't have is the power to audit monetary policy decisions. And if and when it does, political pressure on the Fed will lead to soft interest rates, stepped-up favoritism for interest groups and ultimately a blizzard of inflationary cash. And then the Ron Paul types will have the nerve to say "we told you so, we need a gold standard," notwithstanding their own central role in causing the problem.

And note this nonsense from Barney Frank:

Finally we will subject them to a complete audit. I have been working with Ron Paul, who is the main sponsor of that bill. He agrees that we don't want to have the audit appear as if influences monetary policy as that would be inflationary.
That is pure political CYA. The only purpose to giving the GAO "complete" audit powers is to influence monetary policy.

UPDATE: The "Daily Paul" takes notice, though I don't see an actual counterargument. MORE: I encourage Ron Paul supporters to read my earlier posts on whether the Fed is private, and on pure-strain gold.

Robocall politics

Some things should be handled by robots, and some things should not. Exploration of the outer solar system, for now, should be robotic (I'll have more on that soon) while telemarketing calls should not. So, while I'm glad that a ban is being placed on robocalls, I'm nonplussed to see that the politicians enacting it have exempted ... themselves.
Calls from politicians, public service announcements and "informational" calls will be exempt from the new rule. A call alerting a traveler that his or her flight has been delayed would still be allowed, for example.
So push polls and political smears still make the cut?

UPDATE: Yes, they do. What a crock:
However for those who have called on the FTC to help eliminate the other phone scourge - political robocalls - the new rules will not help. Calls from political campaigns are considered protected speech the FTC said.
How about if a political campaign sprays graffiti on my front door? Is that also protected speech?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Scary sequel

Watching the original Halloween, which terrified me in 1978. Now I find our current 1978-style economic policies more frightening. But I'm also nonplussed to see that we're now up to the second movie in the second cycle of this thing. Will it ever end?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Posting will continue to be light in the near term, as I deal with a very busy week (unless McCleary or other co-bloggers weigh in).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Universal coverage

Over at New Majority, David Frum has invited contributors to discuss whether Republicans should endorse universal health care coverage. My answer is here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whole Foods boycotters are hypocrites

By McCleary

For reasons that Radley Balko explains far better than I ever could, the Whole Foods boycott is completely ridiculous, and maybe even counterproductive, even if you support the Obama healthcare plan.

But two other sidebars to the story:
1) Whole Foods stock rose significantly the day the WSJ published the editorial, and it has maintained that price for nearly two weeks (of course, no guarantee that will continue, stock pickers). Third quarter earnings were also up, but the spike was still greater than you would expect.
2) boycotters, if you do a campaign contribution search for Mackey and for competing upscale supermarket chains, such as NC-based Harris Teeter's Tad Dickson, you will see that Mackey never gave money to Republicans, just Libertarians, primarily Harry Browne. The notion that you will find a food provider outside of a farmer's market more socially responsible than Whole Foods is just plain stupid.

Co-blogger news

Daniel Summer (aka summerseason) has published a chapter on drama therapy in the new book Perspectives on Creativity, from Cambridge Scholars Publishing. A sample of the book is here (PDF).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Origin of eugenics

Since a fair number of people have been coming to my blog through searches for eugenics that hit this post about Glenn Beck's nonsense, I may as well post a link to my piece on Francis Galton of a few years ago. Galton was "The First Eugenicist." Excerpt:
Galton lived to see his ideas gain considerable acceptance, as eugenics societies and journals sprang up in the new century. The movement continued to grow after his death, spreading to multiple countries and across the political spectrum. Having long found acolytes on the right, eugenics now gained enthusiasts among liberals and socialists who embraced hereditary improvement as a progressive cause.
Note to Jonah Goldberg fans: Neither left nor right had any monopoly on eugenics.

Barney Frank is right

Barney Frank is an obnoxious left-wing ideologue who helped bring about a global financial disaster. So it takes some doing to make him look like the reasonable party in an ideological confrontation, but that's what these Obama-equals-Hitler cretins have managed to accomplish.

UPDATE: David Weigel, who's been doing yeoman's work reporting on extremism, discovers the woman questioning Frank is a Lyndon Larouche cultist. See here and here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Obama should have known

My latest post at New Majority is up: "Obama - Getting the Big Things Wrong." Excerpt:

Early in 2008, economist Lawrence Lindsey published a book titled What a President Should Know … But Most Learn Too Late. Though Lindsey, along with coauthor Marc Summerlin, had worked in the George W. Bush White House, the book sought to give advice that could be useful to a president of either party, on matters of policy and management alike. I wrote a positive review for the New York Post, which appeared in truncated form.

Overall, though, What a President Should Know didn’t get too much attention, and I think it’s a safe bet that Barack Obama never read it. And that’s too bad, because some of Lindsey’s advice would’ve spared Obama, and the American public, from some needless, counterproductive aggravation.

Whole thing here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hubble deep field

An animated look at Hubble deep-field imagery. Via Bradlaugh (aka John Derbyshire). I'll leave aside the metaphysical debate about whether this makes "the notion of a loving god with a particular interest in humanity, seem pretty darn ridiculous."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Surrounded property-owner returns

I've written occasionally about the "surrounded property-owner" problem in anarchocapitalism. If any government intervention (indeed, government's very existence) is an unwarranted violation of property rights, then what's to stop your neighbors from just keeping you on your property and starving you to death? And what kind of freedom is it where all property is private and you have to get someone's permission to cross it?

Will Wilkinson, in a debate with Arnold Kling, says much the same thing:

A world in which I am bullied and coerced by lots of different people may be a world without monopoly, but that’s not a world of freedom. And Arnold is wrong that “the absence of monopoly means that you can exercise exit.” Suppose you’re in an anarchocapitalist world (a world in which we do not “take it as given that the political jurisdiction where I reside is a monopoly.”) You live in a house on a piece of property boxed in on all sides by other pieces of property. Each owner of an adjacent property has credibly committed to shooting you if you trespass on her land. There is no collusion between property-owners. They’re just independently jealous of their property rights. Here you have a situation where there is an absence of monopoly and an inability to exercise exit.

Me: Fortunately, anarchocapitalism has little chance of getting beyond the thought-experiment stage.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Obama hearts Big Pharma

If you're one of those progressives who thought government "bargaining power" would reduce pharmaceutical prices via health care reform, you're probably ready for some Prozac right about now.
A memo obtained by the Huffington Post confirms that the White House and the pharmaceutical lobby secretly agreed to precisely the sort of wide-ranging deal that both parties have been denying over the past week....

It says the White House agreed to oppose any congressional efforts to use the government's leverage to bargain for lower drug prices or import drugs from Canada -- and also agreed not to pursue Medicare rebates or shift some drugs from Medicare Part B to Medicare Part D, which would cost Big Pharma billions in reduced reimbursements.
Between this and the giveaway (rather than auction) of carbon allowances in the cap-and-trade scheme, I think there's a strong case to be made that the Obama administration is in bed with Big Business. That's often the case with Big Government, contrary rhetoric notwithstanding.

Phoenix stirring

Byron York: "GOP thinks the unthinkable: Victory in 2010." (Via Instapundit.)

Could be. And one sure sign of an accelerated GOP revival would be Jon Huntsman stepping down as ambassador to China after a year or so to explore career options.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bad news, good news

Bad: Conspiracy theorists are running amok on both left and right.

Good: More people care about knitting than politics.

That is, assuming they're not latter-day Madames Defarge.

Glenn Beck on health care, eugenics, Nazis

Wild nonsense on the Glenn Beck Show crowds out any rational critique of Obamacare. If I were a guest, I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face through something like this. At least this time, R.J. Pestritto, whose Beck-enabling I've noted here before, looks a little nonplussed and uncertain as to how to respond to the host's ravings.

UPDATE 8-19: Where eugenics started.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nepal red afterglow

Nepal's Maoist former prime minister, who lost power in May, wants some anti-US unity.

Former Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda says Asian countries should develop a unified security strategy to combat US influence in South Asia.

In an interview with the BBC, he said India, China and Nepal should work together to counter American power.

Maybe he's just hoping to get some Nepalese actors into the coming Red Dawn remake.
In the new film ... the Wolverines take on invading troops from Russia and China.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Settlers of Catan antimilitarism

This weekend, I was introduced to the absorbing German board game Settlers of Catan. Now, reading this recent Wired article, I understand better why my strategy of building the "largest army" brought such poor outcomes:
German-style games, on the other hand, avoid direct conflict. Violence in particular is taboo in Germany's gaming culture, a holdover from decades of post-World War II soul-searching. In fact, when Parker Brothers tried to introduce Risk there in 1982, the government threatened to ban it on the grounds that it might encourage imperialist and militaristic impulses in the nation's youth. (The German rules for Risk were hastily rewritten so players could "liberate" their opponents' territories, and censors let it slide.)
Anyway, trading frequently in the game -- wood for bricks, wool for ore, etc. -- is an advantage, and such barter is a necessity since there's no money. I wonder if there are any German board games that draw upon the 1920s experience and depict hyperinflation.

Debating Obamanomics

This scheduled Intelligence Squared debate is noteworthy:

Monday, November 16, 2009
Obama's economic policies are working effectively

Moderator: John Donvan

Speaking for the motion: Eliot Spitzer

Speaking against the motion: James Galbraith, Keith Hennessey and Robert Kuttner

Position TBD: Bill Bradley and Paul O'Neill

I note:

1. The only current supporter of the motion is one of the most radioactive politicians in America.
2. The opponents, it seems, will be attacking Obamanomics largely from the left (2/3 of them).
3. By waiting to decide what their position is, Bradley and O'Neill may hope to be seen as fair-minded empiricists, but Bradley has a reputation for high-minded indecisiveness, and O'Neill for flaky erraticism, none of which will be alleviated by the TBD stance.
UPDATE: I recall that President Jimmy Carter's political decline occurred not just because the country became more conservative in reaction to him (as it did) but also because those to his left, such as Edward Kennedy, grew impatient with what they saw as his half-measures. The same may be happening now. On the other hand, Michael Moore says it's all a brilliant head fake.

Radio note

I'm slated to be on the Gabe Wisdom Show on Wednesday August 12 at 7:30 ET to talk about "When Florida Sizzled," my piece on that state's crazed land boom of the twenties.

UPDATE: The audio is currently available here and will later be available here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Meanwhile in Fallujah

Some years ago -- I think it was 2004 during the Republican convention, held in NY -- I saw some college-age demonstrators riding the subway with signs calling for "Solidarity with the Iraqi resistance." Here's a glimpse of what they were thus supporting. (Warning: unpleasant.)

Breaking news

A major politician's birthplace revealed.

Demonizing the caduceus

Rush Limbaugh sees a swastika in Mercury's herald staff. Mercury, be it noted, was the protector of commerce, a helpful god to have on your side.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Seems reasonably accurate

My Political Views
I am a right moderate social libertarian
Right: 3.33, Libertarian: 2.04

Political Spectrum Quiz

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Milton Friedman on why the Fed is not private

James Pethokoukis asks if any economists support Ron Paul's Audit-the-Fed bill, and gets the usual vitriolic comments from Ron Paul supporters. Some of the commentors argue that Milton Friedman (conveniently not alive) would've supported it, and a recurrent theme of the Pauliacs is that the Fed is a "private" institution (which happens not to be true). It is true that Friedman was a critic of the Fed, and would've preferred it had never come into existence, but he had very little patience for anti-Fed crackpots and conspiracy theorists. Below is what Friedman wrote in a long footnote on p. 206 of his book Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History (which book I reviewed in Commentary years ago), on the supposed private nature of the Fed:

There is much confusion about whether the Federal Reserve System is a branch of the government or a private enterprise. That confusion has sparked a host of "crank" conspiracy literature.

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is composed of seven members, all appointed by the president with the aid and advice of the Senate. It is clearly a branch of the government.

[Friedman goes on to explain how the Fed's regional banks are nominally privately owned by banks in their respective districts, but that the Board of Governors has the final word on policy, not the regional Fed banks, which moreover have to turn their net profits over to the U.S. Treasury.]

In short, the system is in practice a branch of the government, despite the smoke screen of nominally private ownership of the district banks.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Baby carbon offsets

There's a piece in the WSJ today about Malthusian worries that having babies entails high levels of future carbon emissions. But what about those who plant trees while having babies -- say five trees per baby?

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Pentavirate

The Fed conspiracy is finally revealed.

But can Kentucky Fried Chicken be bought with pure strain gold?

Selective memory

Matt Welch:

As Reason repeatedly pointed out in 2008, both Obama and the Democrats writ large came to the cusp of reclaiming Washington by rejecting '90s-style "New Democrat" economic Clintonism. And Obama's double-talk at this point should be no surprise.
As I recall, the burning questions at Reason last year were whether to vote for Obama or Bob Barr or nobody (because voting is bad), how to tout someone's anti-McCain book, and how to distance the magazine from post-newsletter scandal Ron Paul without losing its Pauliac readers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

End of days

My onetime boss Lou Dobbs, with whom I had occasional disagreements in my days, seems to be suffering some negative ratings consequences following his recent flirtation with birtherism. Reversing this may require a special report on the Anti-Christ issue.